Award-winning local publisher Fixi is on the right track

Recognised: A file photo of publisher Amir Muhammad with his ‘babies’, books from his Fixi and Fixi Novo imprints. The latter’s KL Noir series has been appearing on local bestseller lists for months.

Recognised: A file photo of publisher Amir Muhammad with his ‘babies’, books from his Fixi and Fixi Novo imprints. The latter’s KL Noir series has been appearing on local bestseller lists for months.

Publishing books that he likes has stood Fixi founder Amir Muhammad in good stead, even bagging him an award at the prestigious London Book Fair.

Talk about seizing the moment: The first thing Fixi founder Amir Muhammad did after winning the Bookseller International Adult Trade Publisher Award at the London Book Fair last week was rush over to shake acclaimed author Kazuo Ishiguro’s hand and profess himself a big fan.

An unplanned but rather shrewd move, as it turned out, since it resulted in Amir expressing interest in getting the Bahasa Malaysia translation rights to Ishiguro’s upcoming novel, due out next year and the author’s first in a decade.

“Ishiguro’s agent, the legendary Deborah Rogers, said it would be good to work with me. I am taking the book without reading a single word, just Rogers’ assurance that it is not very long; I can’t translate long books as Bahasa Malaysia makes things 30% longer,” said Amir, who added that he was pleasantly surprised at being honoured with the award at the fair’s inaugural International Book Industry Excellence Awards. He was replying from London via text messages to our questions. The fair ran from April 8 to 10.

Since its inception three years ago, Fixi – known for its emphasis on contemporary, urban novels in Bahasa Malaysia – has grown by leaps and bounds, amassing a cult following among Malaysian readers. Amir’s publishing company has also launched several imprints, such as Fixi Novo for English-language Malaysian books and Fixi Verso, which does Malay translations of current international bestsellers.

Fixi Novo’s KL Noir series continues to top Malaysian bestseller lists. And Fixi Verso recently managed a coup by releasing Malay translations of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean At The End Of The Lane and Stephen King’s Joyland, and up next are works by young adult fiction author John Green and internationally lauded Japanese writer Haruki Murakami.

Amir attributed Fixi winning the award to “the world getting smaller”.

“The people who know about Fixi have been spreading the word at writers’ festivals and so on. I have to thank (storyteller and publisher) Linda Tan Lingard in particular for actively promoting some Malaysian publishers at international events. Then there was a burst of publicity when we started translating books from overseas. 

“To be honest, the award is more to recognise potential than to say what we have done so far is that great. I know we can improve and grow in so many ways,” he said.

Nominated alongside Fixi in the same category were fellow Malaysian publisher Silverfish Books and Kero of France.

Run in association with Britain’s Publishers Association, the awards aim to give recognition to people and companies involved in the international publishing scene.

Covering 15 award categories from all aspects of international publishing, such as academic publishing, children’s books and digital innovations, the winners are selected by a panel of British judges with global or discipline-specific expertise. This year’s winners came from a diverse range of countries, such as Australia, Belarus, China, Denmark, India, Pakistan and the United States.

These included the University of Chicago Press from the US for the International Academic and Professional Publisher Award, India’s Tara Books for the International Trade Children’s and Young Adult Publisher Award, and Robert Kirkman, founder of American comics imprint Skybound (which created the Walking Dead series), who won The Crossmedia Award for Best Use of IP (intellectual property).

Meanwhile, Ishiguro’s agent Rogers, who founded British literary agency Rogers, Coleridge and White, was awarded the London Book Fair Lifetime Achievement Award.

For Amir, winning the Bookseller International Adult Trade Publisher Award is further proof that he is on the right track with Fixi.

“The immediate plan is still to publish books I like. That’s why I got into publishing. We will also be at the Tokyo International Book Fair (in July) and the Frankfurt Book Fair (in October); who knows what opportunities may arise,” he said.